NEW ORLEANS – Five of six black teens accused of beating a white high school classmate in a case that led to the biggest civil rights protest in decades will plead guilty in a deal expected to be finalized this week, Louisiana court officials involved with the case told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
The six students were initially charged with attempted murder in the 2006 attack on Justin Barker and became known as the “Jena Six,” after the town where the beating took place.
Charges against Carwin Jones, Jesse Ray Beard, Robert Bailey Jr., Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw were reduced to aggravated second-degree battery.
Court officials, who asked not to be identified because the agreement was not yet public, told the AP that those five will plead to lesser charges Friday but would not be specific.
A sixth defendant, Mychal Bell, pleaded guilty in December 2007 to a misdemeanor second-degree battery charge and was sentenced to 18 months in jail.
Bailey’s attorney, James Boren, wouldn’t confirm the deal but said, “you certainly want to be in court on Friday.”
The severity of the original charges brought widespread criticism and eventually led more than 20,000 people to converge in September 2007 on the tiny central Louisiana town of Jena for a major civil rights march.
Racial tensions at Jena High School reportedly grew in the months before the attack. Nooses were hung in a tree on the campus, sparking outrage in the black community. Residents said there were fights, but nothing too serious until December 2006 when Barker was attacked.
Barker was knocked unconscious as the lunch period was ending. He was hit and kicked by the defendants as he lay on the ground, according to court testimony.
Barker graduated that spring and is now working on an oil rig, according to Henry Lemoine Jr., an attorney representing Barker.
Bell graduated in May and is currently trying to find a college where he could play football, according to his attorney, Louis Scott. Bell was considered a top football prospect before the attack, and Scott said he was being widely recruited.
Meanwhile, Lemoine said Barker’s family agreed on a settlement in a civil case Wednesday with Bailey, Shaw and Jones.